New principal has education in her blood

Rahkiah Brown recently became the principal of Sumner Danbury Elementary School after serving for several years as a assistant principal in Bakersfield. Ms. Brown described her style as “leading from behind” allowing the students and staff at the school to be the stars. Besides her passion for education, she is also an actor who recently had a starring role in an upcoming movie. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

by Steven Felschundneff |

Being a leader and teaching others run in the bloodlines of Rahkiah Brown, who just a few weeks ago became the new principal for Sumner Danbury Elementary School.

Her great-grandmother, Ilma Smith, started a free lunch program in the 1920s, feeding students in Houston, Texas, which is also where Ms. Brown grew up. Another relative opened the first Black church in Houston and the first Black cemetery.

“I come from leaders so it’s in my blood, it comes naturally. Even though it’s hard and challenging, it’s also rewarding because I feel like it’s a calling,” Ms. Brown said on Wednesday during a break from her busy schedule at Sumner Danbury.

Ms. Brown was a junior at the University of Houston in 1997 when, driven by her love of acting, she decided to move out west. She enrolled at California State University Los Angeles where she received her bachelor’s degree in radio, television and broadcasting. After graduation she asked her academic advisor where she could find work in the entertainment field and was told that without contacts she could only teach.

“So I started substitute teaching and I loved it and come to find out its in my blood and in my lineage.”

Around that same time, someone told Ms. Brown’s mother that Bakersfield was right outside of L.A., so her mother moved there and Bakersfield became the new family home. Rahkiah spent the next 20 years in that town, beginning her career in education, including four years as an academic coach and six as an assistant principal.

However, many of her close friends were in the greater L.A. area, so when the job in Claremont came up she jumped at the opportunity.

“So for me this is like coming back home, because Cal State L.A. is right up the highway and it’s back where my friends are, and the area that I chose and love,” she said.

In July during her first week here, Ms. Brown caught a television feature, which reported that “Claremont has its own way of doing things.”

“I was ‘yes I am right where I belong,’ because that is exactly who I am. I always have my own way, because nothing changes if you are not innovative,” Ms. Brown said.

Sumner-Danbury Elementary school recently announced the appointment of longtime educator Rahkiah Brown as the new principal. Ms. Brown, who currently lives on the Claremont and Upland border, relocated from Bakersfield where she was an assistant principal for a number of years. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

Just before she came to the City of Trees, Ms. Brown was a assistant principal for Bakersfield City School district. “I was able to get all of the skills and knowledge for the role that I am in now,” she said.

She received a multiple subjects teaching credential and master’s in education from Point Loma Nazarene University.

“My underlying philosophy is building relationships and building community where everyone works together as a team, and where we stand united,” Ms. Brown said. “We are a diverse school, and I want to celebrate that diversity. I am a diverse person. So we are all coming together with our own backgrounds. Although we are diverse, there is a lot of commonality as well and together we can accomplish a lot more than individually.”

Sumner Danbury is unique among Claremont schools because the original Danbury Special Education school, which opened in 1980, was established for special needs and education students.

“One thing we promote here is inclusiveness—the playground is inclusive as are the classrooms. When I meet with my assistant principals, we always talkSabout how can we make this more inclusive.”

It’s been a challenging year for everyone, but perhaps even more so for our children and education in general. But now that we have started a new academic year, the job of our teachers and administrators will be challenging and much different than before. So how will that play out at Sumner Danbury?

“We have these wonderful masks that we want to ensure everyone is wearing,” Ms. Brown said with a smile. She said that her top priority is adding a level of confidence in the school community and that she is doing everything possible to keep the campus as safe as possible.

“I would say right now [we are] just making sure the parents are at ease and they know we are doing the most we can to ensure their child is safe, and that we are following the protocols,” Ms. Brown said.

“The students seem to go with the flow they are really happy to be back. It’s so awesome to see their smiles.”

Some of the challenges include keeping the children in their cohorts, with each classroom sticking together to limit the number of interactions with students from other classrooms.

Ms. Brown describes herself as someone who “leads from the back not from the front,” and strives not to stand out but to help others be their best.

“Our staff is hard working and dedicated and I think it is time for Sumner Danbury to shine. For people to see that we are an excellent school and a school of choice,” she said. “The commitment to our students is unparalleled.”

In spite of that somewhat discouraging advice she received from the counselor at Cal State L.A. Ms. Brown has since continued with her acting career, which began when she was three. At 21 she became a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild.

She just finished shooting her first feature film, “Scuba”, in July. She plays the mother of the main character. The film is currently in editing, which can take a year, but the director is looking forward to getting it screened at film festivals soon after.

“I have done little things but never a co-star role, so this is so exciting,” she said. ‘I enjoy doing plays and I always say plays are my therapy.”
Other hobbies include playing the piano, reading and running. The best running trails are in Claremont.

Ms. Brown’s family includes a daughter who is a pre-med student at University of California, Los Angeles, who just became an EMT to assist in her application to Harvard Medical School.

When she moved to Claremont, Ms. Brown said she brought her mother from Bakersfield.

“I want to commend Claremont. When I arrived here, and to this day, I felt welcomed and I see the diversity and the effort of promoting diversity in this community.” Ms. Brown said. “I am proud to be a part of this community and I want to serve it in every way I can. I am dedicated to the students, parents and staff of this community, and I hope they get to see that each day.”


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